Tuesday 24 October 2017

James O'Connor named at fly half for the Wallabies

James O'Connor passes during an Australian Wallabies training session
James O'Connor passes during an Australian Wallabies training session

Duncan Bech

Australia have picked James O'Connor at fly-half for Saturday's opening Test against the British and Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium with Kurtley Beale included on the bench.

The starting XV picked by coach Robbie Deans features three debutants in full-back Israel Folau, flanker Ben Mowen and inside centre Christian Lealiifano.

Folau is competing in his first season in professional rugby union, having already represented Australia at rugby league and played in the AFL.

Folau has been in stunning form at full-back for the NSW Waratahs, but has been chosen on the right wing by the Wallabies with Digby Ioane, who has recovered from knee surgery, lining up on the opposite flank.

With Beale deemed not ready to start against the Lions following his return from alcohol-related problems, Deans has opted for O'Connor at fly-half with Berrick Barnes taking the number 15 jersey.

It will be only the second time O'Connor has played a Test at 10, with the other appearance taking place alongside Will Genia against Wales in 2011.

Scrum-half Genia and the selection of Adam Ashley-Cooper were the two certainties in the Wallaby backline, with the presence of Lealiifano one of the main talking points in the build up to tonight's team announcement.

The 25-year-old playmaker also features at fly-half for the ACT Brumbies and has edged the more defensive Pat McCabe to form a centre partnership with Ashley-Cooper.

Lealiifano's inclusion indicates the Wallabies are seeking to play a more expansive game against the Lions.

Mowen, the Brumbies captain, will call the lineouts from his position at blindside flanker in a back row that also includes number eight Wycliff Palu and Michael Hooper at seven.

Hooper was the player of Australia's tour to Europe last November and profits from injuries to David Pocock and George Smith, while Scott Higginbotham is another Wallaby back row who will spend the series in the treatment room.

Captain James Horwill is partnered at lock by Kane Douglas and there is a grizzled look to the front row with Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and Benn Robinson having amassed 180 caps.

Despite the three debutants, the Wallabies' line-up contains 519 caps but only six of the starting XV that dispatched Wales 14-12 last autumn have been retained - Barnes, Ashley-Cooper, Palu, Douglas, Alexander and Robinson.

Deans is due to discuss his team selection at a press conference at 7am (BST) in Brisbane tomorrow morning.

Australia team to face the Lions on Saturday: 15-Berrick Barnes, 14-Israel Folau, 13-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12-Christian Leali'ifano, 11-Digby Ioane, 10-James O'Connor, 9-Will Genia; 8-Wycliff Palu, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Ben Mowen, 5-James Horwill, 4-Kane Douglas, 3-Ben Alexander, 2-Stephen Moore, 1-Benn Robinson

Replacements - 16-Saia Fainga'a, 17-James Slipper, 18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Rob Simmons, 20-Liam Gill, 21-Nick Phipps, 22-Pat McCabe, 23-Kurtley Beale

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